Tom Hanks commanding a U.S. destroyer ship and taking on Nazi U-boats sounds pretty cool. Greyhound is indeed cool, as far as it goes. The problem is that it doesn't go very far. That first sentence? There's your entire movie. Literally. It wouldn't be off-base to say that Greyhound feels like a really awesome action scene that exists in another film. Except that the other film doesn't exist. You're left with just a middle, which isn't altogether satisfying.

Hanks plays Commander Ernest Krause, who has just been put in charge of a ship for the first time. In the initial scene, he proposes marriage to girlfriend Evie (Elisabeth Shue) before shipping out. Poor Shue is then completely dropped from the film, except for a two-second silent return at the end. Why this material was included is confounding. It seems like a half-hearted attempt to make us worry about Krause on his pending adventure, yet because we know zero about Evie, no reason exists to become invested in their romance.

From there, the film quickly moves on to its main purpose. Krause captains a destroyer that's leading a convoy of thirty-seven Allied ships across the Atlantic during the early days of WWII. They go through a stretch of the ocean called “the Black Pit” that offers no ability for air support, meaning they're vulnerable to enemy attack. A wolf pack of German U-boats is after the convoy, so Krause has to figure out how to outmaneuver them and protect as many of the other ships as possible.

Aside from starring, Hanks wrote the script for Greyhound. The film's existence seems to have sprung from his fascination with nautical terminology. It's no exaggeration to say that at least 75% of the dialogue is either technical mumbo-jumbo or people shouting coordinates. Weirdly, the movie makes no attempt to use dialogue to develop any relationships between the characters, except that Krause once or twice displays a brief fondness for the ship's cook, Cleveland (Bull's Rob Morgan). An intended payoff to that falls flat because such little time is devoted to it. Stephen Graham, a fine actor, co-stars as navigator Charlie Cole; his role is to basically stand around and say “Aye aye, captain.”

The romance is a bust, there's no attempt at character development, and the film has more of a scenario than a plot. So what works about Greyhound? To its credit, the visual effects are very convincing. No expense has been spared in making it look like the ship is really out at sea. The movie additionally generates a certain level of suspense. When the U-boats launch torpedoes at Krause's ship, which obviously can't turn on a dime, you get a thrill wondering if they can dodge them. Seeing some of the combat techniques of a destroyer ship is interesting, too.

Greyhound runs a scant 82 minutes, minus end credits. One has to wonder, given its brevity, why time wasn't spent building interactions between the characters, showing more of Krause's life before launching, or putting this situation into a broader historical context. Instead, all that stuff has been stripped away, leaving just an elongated action sequence involving submarines and big boats. Other WWII movies have done a better, more compelling job with those elements. That renders Greyhound reasonably watchable, but still one of the year's bigger disappointments.

out of four

Greyhound is rated PG-13 for war-related action/violence and brief strong language. The running time is 1 hour and 31 minutes.